The above picture shows some fish wives in Scotland during the 19th century. Today, if the word "fish wife" is used, it usually means a woman who is both loud and obnoxious.
But the name "fish wife" originally referred to women whose husbands were lost at sea. These widows had to find a way to earn a living to support their families. Their only means of livelihood was to gather the herring fish scraps left on the beach from the catches and then sell them to the farmers inland. It was a very hard life.
One of the characters in my forthcoming novel, Providence (first in the McBride Chronicles series), is the son of such a woman. He is determined that when he is old enough, he will leave his herring fishing village near Fraserburgh on the northeast coast of Scotland where he was born.
He wants to seek his fortune in the New World to make a better life for his mother and younger sisters. Like many others at that time in Scotland, he joins the Hudson's Bay Company and leaves the herring fishing industry behind forever.
I discovered this in-depth account of the herring industry at that time written by Dr. J. R. Coull. It is well worth reading.
My second story, although not about fish, also comes from Scotland and is about a small Island on the west coast called the Isle of Eigg (pronounced “egg”). It is one of the most beautiful Hebridean islands, just five miles long and three miles wide. The story of this fascinating place, with a population of just under 100 people, was told recently on the CBS program: 60 Minutes.
You would have to be tough to live on Eigg—so not many people do. They rely mainly on cottage industry crafts and tourism to survive. Tourists visit Eigg because they are intrigued by the characters who live there. If you want to “get away from it all,” this is definitely the place to go.
The only means of transport is the one taxi cab. Otherwise you walk! The weather is bleak, but the scenery is outstanding.
The island is now owned by the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, who has managed it since a community buyout in 1997. Eigg Electric, a subsidiary of the Trust, provides the island with electricity.
The story of the hardy folk of Eigg sounds “fishy” but it's true!
Today, like many thousands of people around the world, I am remembering those who lost their lives in past wars.
I have a couple of special war memories from my own past. I was born in England during WWII, and although I can’t remember much of it, I know the value of peace today. My first real memory happened long after the war when my father returned from duty overseas in uniform.
It felt strange to have a man living in the house. Since my birth, we had been a house of mostly women—my mother, my older sister, my aunt, and my grandmother. As I grew older, I loved to hear my dad's tales of his war years, but he seldom wanted to talk about it. I can now understand why. He wanted to try and forget and get on with life in England and enjoy his family being together again.
My next strong memory comes much later. I’ve told this story before because it concerns a visit my husband and I made, together with my cousin and her husband who lived in France, to the Awoingt British Cemetery in Northern France in July 2010.
The land, surrounded today by peaceful farm fields, was donated by the French for the cemetery. Many young British and a few German soldiers from WWI are buried there.
We had set out to find the grave of a relative who died at the tender age of 19 just two weeks before Armistice Day in 1918 in WWI. We knew he was buried there. What a waste of a young life, I had thought. But young Eric was a passionate young man who was fighting for something he strongly believed in—to free the world from oppression so that future generations might live in peace.
He had even lied about his age so he could join up. Young men like Eric were beyond brave. Despite their fear, they left home and all that was familiar to them to forge their way through terrible conditions, seeing horrors that no human being should ever have to witness.
I will never forget the moment when we found his grave. It will remain in my heart forever.
We must never forget those young men. If we ever do, or if we minimize their heroism, they will have died in vain. And that must never be allowed to happen.